Item description for Narratives of a New Order Cistercian Historical Writing in England, 1150-1220: Cistercian Historical Writing in England, 1150-1220 (Medieval Church Studies, 2) by Elizabeth Freeman...
The origins of the Cistercian monastic order are currently under intense scrutiny and revision, as scholars identify how the written word was used to 'invent' a unified corporate identity. Here Elizabeth Freeman examines the classic gene for inventing a past - the history, chronicle, and annal - and argues that historical narratives of the English Cistercians helped define the characteristics of both the new Cistercian monastic order and also the new political orders of twelfth- and thirteenth-century England. She shows how Aelred of Rievaulx's Relatio de standardo and Genealogia regum Anglorum articulated new senses of Englishness, and demonstrates through attention to library holdings that this focus on national self-definition continued throughout the twelfth century. The Fundacio abbathie de Kyrkestall shifts focus to local history and exploits Cistercian tropes of land-use in order to resolve the communal insecurity that characterised the Cistercians in around 1200. The Narratione de fundatione Fontanis monasterii features another method of reconciling the nostalgic quest for continuity with the intellectual recognition of change - it separates historical 'fact' from 'meaning' and imbues events with rich allegorical significance. Finally, Ralph of Coggeshall's Chronicon Anglicanum indicates the multiple strategies Cistercian historians employed in order to turn the disparate and contradictory events of the past into a comprehensible and meaningful narrative.
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Truly Amazing Scholarship Apr 22, 2008
Elizabeth Freeman's book provides much needed scholarly examination of Medieval English Cistercian historiography. Until recently, most academic study on the Cistercians was primarily concerned with theology, sermons, and ecclesiastical writings. Elizabeth Freeman's book examines the contribution of English Cistercian historians to the formation of English of English national identity as well as their use of core Cistercian concepts of Christian unity, caritas, for the legitimization of the new monastic foundations. Her book directly and forcefully challenges the commonly held view that "Cistercians in both England and continental Europe were infrequent and uninterested historians" and the claim that the "Cistercian order in general was anti-intellectual." Most interesting to me was her careful examination of the English Cistercians' attempts to use continental Cistercian ideals to legitimate the foundation of New monasteries in Northern England.
This books chronologically examines three groups of historical writings. The first centers on the histories of Aelred of Rievaulx, the first English Cistercian historian. His Relatio de standardo and Genealogia regum anglorum where written in the 1150s. The Relatio de Standardo recounts a battle against the Scots while the Genealogia deals with the genealogy of the Norman Kings of England and their "link" to the Anglo-Saxon past. Aelred's historical writings played a prominent role in perceptions of English nationality.
The second group of Historical writings she examines are the monastic foundation histories. Freedman focuses on the Fundacio abbathie de Kyrkestall and the Narratio de fundatione Fontanis monasterii, both written in the early 13th century to legitimate new monasteries. Unlike the Benedictine Order who often reestablished previous abandoned monastic houses, the Cistercians built their monasteries on new sites. As a result, they legitimated their foundation by describing them as "desert-like sites of eremitic solitude." Freedman adeptly connects this metaphorical eremitic Cistercian tradition with the monk's transformation due to their interior spiritual journeys central to Cistercian theology. Both texts also emphasize the monk's labor in acquiring and preserving their sacred land by engaging in legal disputes and cultivation.
Ralph of Coggeshall's Chronicon Anglicanum is part of the third group of texts that Freedman examines. Ralph's works examine the local, national, and international interests of the English Cistercians.
Simply put, this is an impeccably researched, argued, and footnoted volume that should become a classic in the field of Medieval Cistercian History. I cannot recommend it enough - a MUST BUY for anyone interested in Cistercian history, medieval historians, and Medieval Church History. Freedman's book refutes altogether the claims that the Cistercians were anti-religious and not engaged in the revival of historical writing in the 12th century.
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